Printed on: November 12, 2013

What it was like

On Okinawa, April 20, about dark, we moved up into the lines. My squad was the last to move out. Japanese machine guns opened up on the lines ahead of us.

We bedded down in a grass-covered swale. In the night, some Japanese marines walked through us. The BAR man opened up and killed them all. The tracer bullets set their explosives on fire and they burned until someone covered them with dirt.

The next morning, we moved out about 100 yards and into hell. There were 15 of us who had to take a hill to get everybody out. There was a small knob on top of the hill. An officer sent me up to see. When I got up there, I could see rifles sticking out all over. I zeroed in on one rifle and shot. The rifle disappeared. The BAR man came up and was hit through the chest. The aid man came up and as he bent over the BAR man, a bullet went through his nose and out of the nostril. We got off the hill and put the BAR man on a poncho and took him back to the aid station. He was dead when we got there.

They told us when we got back 105 Howitzers were coming, so get ready. They moved our machine guns where they could shoot over us. As we ran up along the edge of the hill, we passed the body of another scout who had been shot through the jugular and bled to death.

Three or four guys followed me up a hill. We got up on top and the Japanese started to shell us with an anti-tank gun. About this time, a Japanese soldier came out of a hole and walked toward me. I shot him six times. We held that hill through the night. It was the arms dump for the Japanese and they wanted it back bad.

On the morning of the second day, we dug in across a trail that came up the hill. In the night, a machine gunner came up the hill and I killed him. They had sent a sergeant with us and in the morning, a lieutenant called him. He raised his head and a bullet got him between the eyes. The lieutenant looked at me and said, "Van Leuven, you take over the squad."

The third night, about eight of us went out, but the Japanese didn't come in. On the fourth day, the captain and I were kneeling close together. That anti-tank gun hit right in front of us. The captain almost lost his arm. A piece of shrapnel went about 6 inches inside my arm. About dark, the Japanese started to shell us. Each American regiment got hit by about 20,000 shells. Because of the shelling, soldiers were scattered all over the hill. There were three or four of us digging in together. A Catholic priest blessed us that we would be safe that night.

I had a beautiful picture of my wife and our new baby. We knew the Japanese were stripping the dead bodies and it didn't look good, so I took those pictures from my billfold and burned them so the Japanese couldn't take them from my body.

By now I was taking the place of the platoon sergeant. All three platoons went up the hill: First Platoon on the left, Second Platoon in the center, and mine, the Third Platoon, on the right. I just got across and saw a Japanese heavy machine gunner in a cave. I killed him. In a few minutes, the first scout of A Company came across. I have always wondered how many of the A Company guys I saved by killing him.

Most of our company was gone now, so they pulled us out and brought up a bunch of replacements. We went up to the south end of Machinato Airfield, which was under construction. That night I was sent out with about seven or eight men to fill a hole between 106th Infantry and our 165th Infantry. The next morning we caught a Japanese Killer Squad. There were about 12 or 15 of them. We killed them all. This is the day my life changed for the worse. When we got back to the company, they had brought some tanks up to take out a large bunch of Japanese soldiers. We just got there when three U.S. Marine planes strafed us. There was four of my squad right together. One was killed. One got a steel jacket from a 50-caliber bullet stuck in his nose. One got his canteen hit with a 50-caliber bullet. The canteen exploded and his butt looked like hamburger. My poncho had at least 100 holes in it. Altogether there were nine killed or wounded from our company.

There were two of us left in the front commanding, a tech sergeant, who was wounded that day, and me, a PFC. We had one first lieutenant left. The next morning, he came to the front and told me I was in charge. The night before, I crawled out about 25 yards from the Japanese soldiers and could hear them talk and laughing. I said to myself: "You are not getting out of here without help." I tried to pray. When I got to where it says, "Thy will be done" in the Lord's Prayer, I could say no more. I couldn't pray again for 35 years.

Van Leuven lives in Roberts.